The Hina Factor
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna says that he is “satisfied” with the progress achieved during the India-Pakistan dialogue on July 27 at New Delhi. According to him, his talks with the young and beautiful Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar were “useful”. Krishna is emphatic that “while being fully cognisant of the challenges that lie ahead, I can confidently say that our relations are on the right track. We have some distance to travel, but with an open mind and a constructive approach, which has been demonstrated in this round of dialogue, I am sure we can reach our desired destination of having a friendly and cooperative relationship between the two countries”. After all, and this Krishna makes it very clear, India would like to see “a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan”.
But then, what is the basis of Krishna’s “satisfaction”? Leave aside the platitudes and all talks of Hina being a refreshing change compared to her tough and loud-mouthed predecessor SM Qureshi, you will see that India has not gained anything. On the other hand, Krishna has gone out of way to grant further concessions which charming Hina can legitimately claim to be gains for Pakistan. Here, two points are noteworthy.
First is the fact since 1990s, the two countries have been indulging in what is called “composite dialogue”, consisting of eight areas or items—peace and security concerns, including Confidence Building Measures (CBMs); Jammu and Kashmir; Siachen; Sir Creek; Tulbul Navigation Project/Wullar Barrage; terrorism and drug trafficking; economic and commercial cooperation; and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields. However, talks have been periodically suspended whenever there were terrorist attacks on Indian turf, allegedly with Pakistani complicity, not to talk of the hot-war involving armed forces in Kargil in 1999. In 2004, the process, which was stalled after attacks on Indian Parliament, resumed after Pakistan gave a commitment that its territory would not be used for any terrorist training and attacks affecting India. Then came the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. India-Pakistan negotiations again halted. It resumed this February. But early this month (July 13, to be precise), there were again attacks on Mumbai. But this time, India decided not to disturb the already scheduled talks with Pakistan. In fact, Krishna, the day after the Mumbai blasts, that is on July 4, told reporters, “The foreign minister-level talks with Pakistan will take place as scheduled.”
What this means is that India has now dehyphenated terrorism from talks with Pakistan. It is a vital change in the country’s foreign policy which, unfortunately, has not got due attention. Of course, one could argue that if unlike in the past, this time the talks are going on, then the government has reached the conclusion that Pakistan or non-state actors in Pakistan have had no hands in the latest blasts in Mumbai. We all know how the Manmohan Singh government has been systematically trying to prove the theory that terrorism in India is home- grown, and that too it is the handiwork of the Hindu right-wingers. But there are two problems with this theory behind dehyphenation. One, how come within 24 hours of the Mumbai incident, Krishna came to the firm conclusion that there was no linkage this time with elements in Pakistan? Second, how does one explain the outgoing Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s enough indications to the press over last few months that talks with Pakistan must have a momentum of its own without being influenced by other developments? The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that the Manmohan Singh government has brought about a subtle change in its Pakistan-policy. Talks would no more be held hostage to terrorism-related incidents.
The second point to note is that all these years Pakistan has been arguing that even if the two countries should discuss all the matters under composite dialogue, primacy must be accorded to the Kashmir, the “core” issue affecting the normalisations between the two countries. India, under Manmohan Singh, seems to have succumbed to the Pakistani pressure on this Kashmir issue. The latest joint-statement clearly indicates to this effect.
For instance, the joint statement said that Krishna and Khar “reviewed the status of bilateral relations and expressed satisfaction on the holding of meetings on the issues of Counter-Terrorism (including progress on Mumbai trial) and Narcotics Control; Humanitarian issues; Commercial & Economic cooperation; Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; Sir Creek; Siachen; Peace & Security including CBMs; Jammu & Kashmir; and promotion of friendly exchanges”. But it is silent on any concrete outcome on any of these issues. Only, “the Ministers affirmed the importance of carrying forward the dialogue process with a view to resolving peacefully all outstanding issues through constructive and result oriented engagement, and to establish friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly relations between Pakistan and India”!
In contrast, see what they agreed on Kashmir. “The Ministers held discussions on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and agreed to the need for continued discussions, in a purposeful and forward looking manner, with a view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.
“On Cross-LoC trade and travel facilitation for Jammu & Kashmir the Ministers decided the following:-
- i) List of 21 products of permissible items for Cross-LoC trade will be respected by both sides. The Working Group will review the trading list with a view to further specifying permissible items to facilitate intra-Jammu & Kashmir Cross-LoC trade.
- ii) Both sides will provide adequate facilities at the trade facilitation centres on each side.
iii) The number of trading days stands enhanced from 2 to 4 days per week. Truck movements shall take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, both on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes.
- iv) The Designated Authorities will resolve operational issues concerning cross-LoC trade through regular interaction.
- v) Regular meetings between the Chambers of Commerce and traders of both sides will be facilitated.
- vi) Existing telephone communication facilities should be strengthened.
vii) The meetings of the Designated Authorities will be held alternately at the Terminal of the Crossing Points on both sides of the LoC every quarter or as and when deemed necessary.
- i) Cross-LoC travel would be expanded on both sides of the LoC to include visits for tourism and religious pilgrimage. In this regard, the modalities will be worked out by both sides.
- ii) Facilities including waiting area, terminal and clearing procedures at the operational crossing points will be streamlined by both sides for smooth Cross-LoC travel.
iii) The Cross-LoC bus service between Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes will henceforth run on every Monday.
- iv) Application forms and requisite documentation in respect of travel across LoC will be exchanged by email between Designated Authorities of both sides. Such email transfer of application forms will be backed up by hard copies.
- v) Both sides will expedite the processing time for applications, which shall not be more than 45 days.
- vi) Six month multiple entry cross-LoC travel permits will be allowed by the Designated Authorities after completion of the required formalities at an early date.
vii) Coordination meetings between the Designated Authorities will be held at the Terminals alternately on both sides of the LoC every quarter or as and when deemed necessary.
“It was agreed that the Joint Working Group will henceforth meet on a bi-annual basis to review existing arrangements and suggest additional measures for Cross-LoC travel and trade”.
It is obvious that the so-called Hina factor has been a great success story. The Pakistani Foreign Minister has achieved something that must make her proud. She not only saw forward movement on the Kashmir issue; she also scored an emphatic point by meeting openly the top separatist Kashmiri leaders—Yashin Malik at Lahore while coming to India and meeting Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, Aga Syed Badgami and Bilal Lone at Pakistani High Commission in Delhi. I doubt whether Pakistan will ever allow a visiting Indian foreign minister to meet the disgruntled leaders of Pakistran-occupied Kashmir (PoK) at Islamabad.
How can one explain India’s soft-approach towards Pakistan these days, and that too at a time when Islamabad is under relentless pressure from the United States to shed its double standard on fighting against terrorism and religious fundamentalism? Is there any hidden agenda? The country needs answers from the Manmohan Singh government.
By Prakash Nanda